Monday, May 18, 2009

Supply and Demand

The U.S. and Mexico have had a longstanding wrangle over who's to blame for drug smuggling and all its attendant evil of violence and crime and death. The U.S. takes the position that the problem is Mexico's -- if Mexico did not supply the drugs, there would be no demand. Mexico takes the position that the problem is the U.S.'s -- if the U.S. did not demand the drugs, there would be no supply.

While supply and demand are crass terms to apply to international adoption, the parallels are clear. Some argue that people from the West adopt so many children from abroad because there is a constant supply -- so many orphans abroad, created by poverty, war, famine, disease, and/or policies or cultural practices of the sending countries. Others argue that the demand from the West creates orphans, that it's the monetary incentive to adoption agencies and orphanages that creates orphans where orphans used to be simply poor children living with their families.

Take India, for example. Adoption facilitators would approach poor families and offer the families what would be a fortune to them, and a drop in the bucket to us, to relinquish the child. Isn't that the creation of an orphan?

What about Guatemala, where there have been some reports of women getting pregnant so that they can relinquish the child and earn the fee for international adoption, while the prevalence of baby-stealing is so great the U.S. requires DNA testing to match relinquishing mothers and children. Isn't this a system that creates orphans?

What about in China, where an entire village of women in Yunnan got pregnant in order to earn the fee for giving the child to an orphanage that would then get $3000-$5000 "orphange donation" for the child? And what about the children sold by traffickers and purchased by orphanages in China?Isn't that the creation of an orphan?

[I don't want to impose a moral judgment on women and families who make the decision to relinquish for a fee. In the midst of abject poverty, it may be seen as the only way for the family and other children to survive. Certainly, people have choices in life, and it's a choice even when it is a difficult one. But it's hard to find a "forced choice" to be free choice. The real problem is the traffickers offering this money, knowing its coercive force.]

I know that the incidents I've linked to above are not the whole picture, but there is little doubt that they are part of the picture. Babies with families are being turned into orphans so that they can be adopted by foreigners who will pay a great deal of money for that adoption. We don't know the scope of the problem, because purchased and stolen babies have the same paperwork as true orphans.

So what do we do about it? Do we end the demand to control the supply -- bar international adoption? Do we work harder at global aid for struggling families to end the supply?

The biggest response to both possibilites is -- what do we do in the meantime? Assuming that cutting the demand would end -- or seriously reduce -- the supply, how long will it take to do so? And even if we had the public will to increase international aid, how long will it take to trickle down to vulnerable families? And what do we do with all of those orphans in the meantime?

Ideas? Suggestions? Comments? Please share.


travelmom and more said...

This is an interesting post, and something I have thought about recently. I can't help but to think about instances of selling children into prostitution, domestic servitude, child labor, etc that go on all over the world and are particularly acute in places like India and China. The history of impoverished people selling their children is long and runs deep around the globe.

Furthermore I can't help but to think about the business of infertility and the paying of someone for their eggs, sperm or womb and how there don't seem to be the same ethical debates in the name of medical technology as there are in the name of adoption.

Although there are unethical adoption practices around the world It is my understanding that this is the exception not the rule. And although this is sensitive I am not sure that the motivation for selling a child to a broker for adoption or selling a child into servitude are any different they both result from lack of education, and resources to provide for a family. If given not given a choice to sell a child for an orphanage fee, who is to say some of these children wouldn't be sold for another more grim purpose. This does not justify the trafficking of children, it is just an observation.

Anonymous said...

I've been mulling this too, and my thoughts are often unformed. Recently I wrote that I am happy to stand up and proclaim that I am "tainted" by international adoption too because my $$ was the gas in the car on that day. I just wish other a-parents could have this conversation without freaking out.

I too do not wish to impose any moral judgment on the woman or couple that agrees to take a bribe. If you are poor and have kids and the money offered is substantial, it's a no-brainer. What I think needs to change is the $$ in the system. Naively, I used to think that the $$ was just graft for officials. But China has overhauled its entire social welfare institute with cash for baby girls. The problem is that as soon as you *price* one of these babies knowing the demand is high, then there's a huge incentive to increase the supply. I know Brian Stuy thinks the supply of infant girls in China is actually drying up now. The family planning program has worked. Hence the imposition of stricter terms on adopters and an increased fee of $5000US.

Globally, there has to be some initiative to reunite children in institutions with their parents. That should take priority. Perhaps the fee structure for those who adopt could be revamped to make these reunions possible. Sending money to the orphanage, good as that is, should not detract from the need to support families. I don't know. Just thinking out loud.

Anonymous said...

Oh, and on the subject of infant girls in China, I should have added: And hence the likelihood of more corruption/trafficking.